Trip Start Aug 05, 2007
9Trip End Aug 20, 2007
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Today was the first day of a 3 day tour to Takayama, Shirakawago, and Kanazawa
I never heard of these three cities before, but it turns out they were very fascinating and presented a different aspect of Japanese culture.
Our tour guide met us at the hotel at 10:30 AM and arranged for our luggage to be sent on to Tokyo, as we were allowed only to take a carry on bag for this trip.
We boarded a shinkansen train to Nagoya, and from there would take a regular (slow) train to Takayama-the Hida express train. Our tour guide was a 70 plus year old gentleman from Nagoya who has been doing this for 50 years, and was actually retired. His name was Miko but he asked us to call him Mike. He was really a wonderful guide and extremely knowledgeable
Takayama is in the northern Japanese Alps. It was at one time very isolated from the rest of Japan because of its geography. Japan is about 57% forest, but Hida-Takayama is 72% forest. Hida-Takayama (a sister city with Denver CO) is Japan's largest city in square miles. Its population is 97,000. Takayama is its new name taken from Takayama castle which was built in 1519 and donated to the city for a museum in 2004. Originally the town was built as an imitation of Kyoto so it was called Little Kyoto at one time. The new city was a merge of nine neighboring towns and villages and in 2005 became Takayama City. The architecture here is much different than the previous cities we had visited. Everything is more quaint. Much of the city is built from wood.
About 1,350 years ago, the Shoguns decided that the villagers would have to pay taxes
Because Hida was in the mountains and there was no rice, grains, or textiles they could use to pay this tax, it was decided instead, that the villagers would send their young boys and men to the capital to work for 250 to 300 days of the year. They worked as carpenters and builders, building palaces, gates, and temples in the capital. Great numbers of Hida's artisans landed up building the greatest and most famous temples in the capital. The artisans returned to Hida and used these skills to build Hida's ancient temples. The technique of Hida's artisans lives on even now in this area in traditional arts and crafts. The town still preserves the feeling of a castle town. It has one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan with incredible ornate floats (see my pictures) .Takayama is also famous for its gold and silver mines. The traditional crafts of Takayama are building of wooden furniture, wood carving carving of netsuke made from yew wood, lacquerware, and pottery.
We walked to the Yatai Kaikan Hall Festival Floats Exhibition Hall
which is where four of the eleven festival floats are stored. They were absolutely beautiful. One of them was completely gilded in gold leaf. It will take too long to describe all the floats so look at the pictures. They rotate the floats 3 times a year (March, July, and November) putting 4 on display each time
The ornate gold float needed to be carried by 60 men all the same height. It isn't used any more because of the difficulty of finding so many people the same height. (there was a model of the float being supported by the 60 men in the museum). The other floats had 3 wheels-sometimes a 4th wheel that lifted up for turns. If it is raining on the festival day, a very small substitute float is used instead. The costumes used for the parade are very special and are very expensive to make. Look at my pictures. The festivals are Sannō Matsuri April 14-15 and Yahata Matsuri October 9-10. After seeing the floats in the Keikan Exhibition hall, we saw a movie which showed us the preparations for the parade and past parades.
We continued on to see a Banker's home (Kusakabe Folkcraft Museum) that had been donated to the city in 1879. Since the winters are very long and there is lots of snow, the houses had roofs in the shape of praying hands-extremely steep slope, so the snow can slide down the roof. There were no chimneys. The entire house was built from Japanese Cypress.They had fireplaces in the middle of the rooms over which they cooked. The ceilings became very black from the smoke over time. The rooms in Japan are measured by tatami mats (6x 3 feet) which are rush mats woven from reeds
We saw hand warmer boxes in each room. There was a custom until 200 years ago that the nobility would dye their teeth black. They would boil iron with vinegar, sake, or alcohol, then paint their teeth. We saw a bankers' counting table, paraphernalia for dying teeth, gold, silver, and copper coins, and combs and hair ornaments used by the women. In the west, most of the houses had thatched roofs made from yew bark. They used to make clothing out of hemp, flexible bark, and vines. The mulberry tree was also used for clothing, but silk was only allowed for the Samurai class.
Afterwords we went to see Sakurayama-Nikko Kan a 1/10th scaled model of the shrines and castle. There were miniature buildings and shrines, and even a miniature parade with some of the floats--especially the golden float being carried by 60 men.
In the evening we wondered around the old town and finally found a family owned restaurant, where I decided to try the famous Hida Beef. Yehuda ordered something with salmon. The meal consisted of miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables and a main course. They brought the beef to the table in a small ceramic canister with a lit sterno underneath. The raw beef and sauce was sitting on a very large leaf above it. When it looked cooked enough, I removes it from the leaf. The beef was very soft and melted in my mouth, but too fatty. While we were eating, the television was showing the burning of the Obon fires on the mountains around Kyoto. We returned to our hotel, and Yehuda again tried the hot springs.